Category Archives: Baking

My adventures in baking.

Elimination of wheat

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In the time since I undertook a decidedly more serious amount of experimentation with baking breads, I have watched my weight climb, along with my BMI.  It was during a recent party where I baked a plethora of breads including a baguette, pain de mie, a sourdough boule and a magnificent fougasse aux olives.  Although my guests were impressed with the spread, I knew that bread was an indulgence that would eventually lead to health problems.  In fact, I noticed some symptoms related to wheat consumption beginning to appear, and I even suspected wheat as the culprit at one point.

Some time ago, after much research, I landed on a 40-30-30 based diet and successfully lost over 65 pounds.  Being such a strict formula, I eventually relaxed the diet and eventually abandoned those principles.  One of the main tenants of a 40-30-30 diet is a controlled reduction in carbohydrates.  More importantly, that diet treats all food as a drug, and administered carefully you could control your glycemic index and achieve a metabolic state conducive to weight loss.

Anyway, my dad asked me if I read the book called “Wheat Belly.”  I replied that I had not, but promised to buy a copy and read it.  And I did.  The information I read was intriguing.  I won’t provide a review just yet, but you can get a general idea of what it is about by reading the summary.

For my summary, Dr. William Davis exposes his findings on the harmful effects of eating wheat products, sometimes manifested as gluten intolerance or as life-threatening celiac disease.  Now to be clear, I have not been diagnosed with gluten sensitivity or celiac markers, but I do exhibit some of the symptoms outlined in this book suggesting mild to moderate wheat intolerance.  My rapid weight gain alone is enough evidence that wheat is at a minimum increasing my caloric intake, throwing my carb-fat-protein ratios off balance and wreaking havoc with my metabolism.   Marrying the concepts I learned from Dr. Barry Sears and his research into proper carb balance, I think I have a pretty fair formula for increased health.

So, as much as I love baking breads, as of today I am eliminating all wheat products from my diet.  Does this mean I won’t ever bake bread again?  Certainly not!  There are alternative ways to bake gluten free breads, and I will experiment with those methods in the coming months.  Unfortunately, wheat gluten is the magic component that makes delicious bread possible.  There are replacement components (xantham gum, guar gum, etc) which can stand in for wheat gluten, and other refined flours…but these must be consumed in moderation if you want to maintain a healthy state.  I won’t be making as many gluten-free replacement bread products, but I do plan to master the art of gluten free baking.

So to those of you who follow my baking blog, I am sorry to inform you that I will no longer blog on my experiments with wheat-flour based breads, at least until I can establish that the wheat-free lifestyle is providing a benefit as advertised.  So I will report back here weekly with statistics on my weight loss/gain in the absence of wheat and other harmful carbohydrates.

Soon, I will post my first recipe and experiment with gluten free buttermilk biscuits.  In the midst of becoming wheat-free, I will also post my findings on alternatives to wheat-based treats, focusing instead on some original,  inspired, more-health-conscious alternatives.  Au revoir, wheat!

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Vanilla Flan

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Today I’m going to provide my own recipe for Vanilla Flan.

You will need:

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 12 ounce can evaporated milk
  • 14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 3/4 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 cup heavy cream

Preheat your oven to 350F.  Spray a 9 inch stoneware casserole with non-stick cooking spray.

Overview.  This recipe is all about timing.  While the caramel is making, you boil the water and make the flan mixture.  Once the caramel is done, you immediately add it to the dish and immediately set the dish inside a 9×13 cake pan that is filled halfway with boiling water.  Then you add the flan mixture and bake.  I’ll outline the steps individually…

Make the Caramel.  Add the sugar to a small saucepan and add 1/4 cup water.  Cook over medium heat, stirring until sugar becomes translucent.  Increase heat to medium high and do not stir.  Occasionally, brush the sides of the saucepan with a pastry brush dipped in water.  This prevents sugar crystals from forming.  When the sugar begins to caramelize, continue waiting until the caramel is a deep brown-red color.  This will take anywhere from 15-30 minutes.  Be patient and don’t be afraid of dark caramel but don’t get it too dark because it will be bitter / acrid.

Make the Flan.  While the caramel is making, put about 5 cups water to boil.  While the water is coming to a boil, mix together  the evaporated milk, condensed milk, milk, eggs, egg yolks, and vanilla extract until well blended.   Add the heavy cream and mix until it is incorporated.  This will be a soupy mix with visible bits of egg yolk.  Using a knife, split open the vanilla bean and scrape out the vanilla seeds.  Add them to the flan mixture, mixing well.

When the water is boiling, pour it into the 9×13 pan.

By now, your caramel should be getting done.  As soon as the caramel reaches the desired color, remove it from the heat and immediately pour it into your greased dish, coating the bottom and about 1″ of the sides.  Set this dish into a 9×13 pan that is halfway filled with boiling water.  The goal here is to not have the boiling water overflow out of the 9×13 pan.  Use caution.

Do a final stir on the flan mixture, then pour it on top of the caramel.  Be sure to use a scraper to get all of the vanilla seeds.  Carefully put the 9×13 pan into the oven.  Cook for about 60 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the middle of the flan comes out clean.  It will still be jiggly.

Let the flan cool, then put it in the refrigerator and refrigerate for 12-24 hours.  When you are ready to serve the flan, invert the flan onto a large plate.  Don’t attempt to salvage the caramel that has turned to candy in the bottom…all you want is the liquid caramel.  The resulting flan should look like this after it is cut:

A Warning about Weevils

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Though this will not be an appetizing post, it is necessary for any home baker to be aware of certain things.  Wheat Weevils (Sitophilus granarius) are an unfortunate reality that must be dealt with.

First, I strive for total cleanliness in my kitchen and pantry.  This includes weekly cleaning of my refrigerator.  I typically store my flours at room temperature in air-tight containers.  You store them in the freezer too, but I find this adds unwanted moisture and flavors to the flour.  There is a good reason to store your flour in airtight containers (in the bag).

I picked up some King Arthur AP flour this weekend at my local supermarket.  When I got home, I opened one of the bags and found it teeming with wheat weevils.  My wife calls them “Gorgojos” which translates to “Weevils”.  If you see these things in your kitchen, you have to immediately discard the flour.  In my case, I put it in a zip top bag and took it back to the store for a refund, and to chastise the manager for having conditions in his storeroom that would allow such an infestation.

If you just store your flour on the pantry shelf, you are asking for a weevil infestation.  I don’t know where they come from; I just know that you will get them.  Many discount stores sell containers suitable for storing single 5 lb. bags of flour or even multiple bags.  You need to invest in these if you plan to do any baking at home!  At a minimum, keep your flour sealed in a plastic bag.

Remember this final warning…just because you buy new, fresh flour at the store doesn’t mean it is not infested with weevils.  Always check it.  You may not see any signs, but you will sometimes see an adult weevil when you open a new bag.  If you find them in a new bag, return it to the store and speak to the manager.  And most importantly, never again buy flour from this store!  Chances are…the rest of their flour and wheat products (including wheat based kitty litter) is infested.

 

Pain de Mie

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One of the gifts I received for my birthday was a 13 x 4 x 4 Pain de Mie pan.  While it is certainly a specialty baking item, it is a “nice to have” addition to the home bread baker’s repertoire.   Pain de Mie (roughly pronounced “Pan duh mee”) is a French sandwich-type bread traditionally made in a Pain de Mie pan or a Pullman pan.

The recipe I used for my Pan de Mie is from Sarbeth’s Bakery cookbook.  The only translation necessary from her cookbook was from compressed yeast or active dry to the instant dry yeast I was using.  The typical conversion ratio is 1 oz. compressed = 0.5 oz. active dry = 0.4 oz. instant dry.  So for her recipe I ended up using 0.2 oz. of IDY.

The instructions are very straightforward.  This bread is mixed like any other white bread.

Following an initial mix, flour is gradually incorporated until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. You then mix on medium-low (speed 2 or 3) for 6 minutes.  The resulting dough is put in a container and set to rise for 1.25 hours.

Following the rise, the dough is dumped onto a floured surface and gently shaped into a long loaf.

The prepared dough is then added to the greased pullman pan.

With the lid in place, but not fully closed, the dough is left to rise for approximately 1 hour.  I let mine rise for 1 hour and 10 minutes and it still had some room to grow; however, I slightly underproofed it.

After rising, the lid is locked into place and the risen loaf is added to a 350F oven and set to bake for 35 minutes.  After cooking through (mine baked for 40m), the bread cools in the pan for 5m, then it is inverted onto a cooling rack.

The crumb is light, fluffy and flavorful.  This bread is indeed the same size as a supermarket bread loaf but the taste and texture is much more desirable.  I was blown away by the taste of a slice of this bread that had been toasted and buttered.

Lessons Learned:

This is a recipe that requires intuition over precision.  You will need to add enough flour to get the proper consistency but not enough that the bread will end up dry.  I’ve come to believe that less flour (initially) is more desirable than too much flour.  Remember that after its initial rise, the dough will become more manageable, so even if it seems slack at first it will firm up as it rises.

If you want a completely squared off (rectangular) loaf, just let the dough rise higher in the pullman pan.  As it expands during the initial moments of baking, the bread will have nowhere to go, so it will square-off in the pan and develop a more dense crumb.

This bread was a big hit in my household.  Although a loaf of supermarket bread may sit around for a week, this bread was consumed within 12 hours of baking it.

Publix’s Buttermilk Cornbread

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Southern cornbread was a staple in my home when i was growing up.  My family still enjoys a square of hot, moist cornbread when we get together for a family meal.  For us, having cornbread with a southern meal is second nature.  How could anyone eat Hoppin’ John or a bowl of collard greens without cornbread?

Enjoying cornbread is only possible if you have a good cornbread recipe.  I found a good, reliable and consistent cornbread recipe on a bag of Publix brand yellow cornmeal…and I will share it with you here:

  • 1 1/3 C plain enriched yellow corn meal
  • 1 1/3 C all-purpose flower
  • 3/4 C granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 C buttermilk
  • 3 eggs (beaten)
  • 6 Tbsp butter, melted

Mix dry ingredients.  Combine buttermilk, eggs and melted butter.  Add buttermilk mixture to dry ingredients, stirring just until moistened.  Pour the cornbread into a greased 9″ square pan and bake at 425F for 25-30 minutes.

What I like to do is put enough oil in the bottom of the pan to coat it and put the pan in the oven as the oven preheats.  Then you pour the cornbread batter into the hot pan.  This sears the outside surface of the batter, leading to a moist cornbread that has a crunchy crust.  Here is an image of the batter after it is poured into a hot pan.  Note the edges of the batter.

After baking the cornbread should be allowed to cool completely.  Then it can be removed from the pan.

Cornbread is typically cut into squares.  Alternately, cornbread can be baked into sticks or muffins.  I also like to bake cornbread in a seasoned cast iron skillet.

 

Enyucado

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Today’s blog takes us on a culinary journey to the coastal region of Colombia, South America.  Enyucado is a dessert that is somewhat hard to describe.  A bite of this rich dessert leads to the flavors of coconut and anise while the texture resembles a cross between egg custard and bread pudding.

I stumbled across a great recipe for Enyucado while searching for Ecuadorian desserts.  My wife never heard of Enyucado but she was familiar with the ingredients.  As I found out, making Enyucado is a labor of love, but if you are a fan of anise, it is worth the effort.

Getting the ingredients for this dessert was not as easy as it might seem.  The coconut I picked up at the local supermarket looked fine on the outside but it was rotten on the inside.  Finding fresh yuca  is also not as easy as it seems.  Yuca is typically coated in wax, so it can look fresh on the outside but can have dark spots or streaks on the inside.  I have also found fresh yuca which is too old; it contains large fibrous strands that are inedible.  The trick is to break off a piece of the yuca and look for completely white flesh free of dark brown spots or streaks.  Luckily, there are at least two Latin produce markets within 8 miles of my house, so I was eventually able to find fresh yuca, a good coconut and some good queso blanco.

Making the Enyucado begins by cracking and grating some coconut.  Sure, you could use some bagged frozen grated coconut and possibly even the shelf stable grated coconut.  But why?  If you are taking the time to grate fresh yuca then take the time to grate fresh coconut too.  You’ll appreciate the difference in taste.  After cracking, separating out the shell and cleaning the coconut, it took me about half  of one coconut’s meat to produce ¾ cup of grated coconut.  I grated the coconut on the medium grating side of my KitchenAid box grater.

For the yuca, I peeled and grated it using the fine grating surface.  It took about 3 yuca roots to make the 3 cups of grated yuca.  You have to be sure to not grate the very center of the yuca too…it is tough and fibrous.

As an aside, it is probably a good time to discuss concerns about yuca.  You’ve no doubt heard that yuca in its raw form contains two cyanogenic glucosides, linamarin and lotaustralin.  Through the natural enzyme in yuca, these compounds are broken into hydrogen cyanide in your body, which can lead to acute cyanide poisoning.  Yes, you read right…cyanide….the stuff that has been used to kill condemned prisoners.  But don’t worry!  The dangerous toxins present in yuca dissipate when the yuca is cooked.  This will probably scare most people away from ever trying yuca, but all you need to do is properly cook it and don’t eat it raw.  Seriously, it is not a big deal!  This dessert cooks for almost 1 hour at 400F.  That is sufficient time for the latent toxins to dissipate.

Once the yuca and coconut are grated, grate the queso fresco.  Grate it on the medium side as well.  It takes about ¾ of a wheel of queso fresco to get 1 ½ cups of grated fresh queso fresco blanco.

The rest is easy – dump the grated stuff into a large bowl, add the sugar, melted butter, coconut milk and however much anise you like.  I personally like a hint of anise versus a heaping helping.  Then dump it in a buttered baking dish.   ow bake it all in a 400F oven for 50+ minutes or until it is nicely browned.

You end up with something like this…

Pain Viennois

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My latest experiment involves making Pain Viennois, or “Vienna Bread.”  Typically referred to as a “French” type bread, Pain Viennois is actually an Austrian bread.  To make this bread, I used the French Culinary Institute recipe.

The FCI recipe makes 12 loaves, and the amount of flour is too much for the KitchenAid Artisan to handle.  So I began by dividing the recipe in half and preparing my work surface.  The only modification I had to make is to reduce the amount of “fresh yeast” from 20 grams to 6.75 grams because I am using Instant Dry Yeast (IDY).  This reduction is in accordance with the SAF IDY yeast packaging.

The recipe begins with dumping everything except the butter into the mixing bowl fitted with the hook attachment.  You then mix on low speed for 5 minutes.  This was slightly problematic for the 5-quart Artisan mixer because the dough is quite stiff and wants to shape itself into a log and come out the top of the bowl.  But stopping the mixer every minute or so to reposition the dough solves this issue.

After the initial 5-minute mix, a higher speed 12-minute mix occurs.  The 12-minute mix really taxed the Artisan, but it survived.  After the 12 minute mix, the butter is incorporated slowly into the dough.  I didn’t think the butter would ever incorporate but after 5 minutes of additional mixing it began to come together in a rather soft dough.

After the butter is mixed in, it is time to rest the dough for one hour.  After an hour, the dough had not risen much but it was puffy and fragrant.  At this stage, the dough is portioned into six 150g pieces, shaped into a bâtard and set to bench rest for 15m.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the bench rest, the bâtard is shaped into a six mini-baguettes.

The shaped loaves are now brushed with egg wash and rested for 2 hours.  At the end of the 2 hour wait, the loaves are again brushed with egg wash and scored along the top to make the signature Pain Viennois marks.  After a ~30m bake in a 425F oven, the loaves look something like this:

Pain Viennois is a rich, buttery bread with a fabulous taste.  The small loaves are very versatile and can be used to make sandwiches, to eat as-is, to accompany dinner, or for a tasty breakfast.  These loaves were a winner in my house and my wife now wants me to make 6 more tonight.  They take a total of about 4 to 4.5 hours to make.  And that highlights one of the main problems with baking bread – the timing.  If you want these for dinner, you ideally need to start them at 2PM (which is very hard if you are working).

Lessons Learned:

The dough is stiff and hard on the Artisan mixer.  I would love to make a larger quantity of these in a more powerful mixer.  Otherwise there really are no pitfalls with this bread.  The ingredients are simple and the work is mostly done in the mixer.